This past week at Flashpoint Gallery, viewers were able to throw crumbs at an Ivanka Trump look-alike as she vacuumed. The interactive performance space was created by artist Jennifer Rubell to celebrate the 20th anniversary of CulturalDC, a Washington, D.C.-based arts organization.

This display is not the first time that the art world has taken a stab at Ivanka Trump. In response to President Donald Trump’s election in 2016, a group of New York artists gathered and created an Instagram account: “Dear Ivanka.” The account reposted photographs of Ivanka Trump with messages such as “Dear Ivanka I’m afraid of the swastikas spray painted on my park” to disparage her for supporting the politics of her father. In one post, they included Ivanka Trump’s selfie in front of an abstract work by well-known artist Alex Da Corte. Da Corte saw the post and commented: “Dear @ivankatrump please get my art off your walls I am embarrassed to be seen with you.”

While it is within artists’ rights to disavow Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner for collecting their artwork and using it as a luxury prop for Instagram posts, targeting the president’s daughter ignores the fact that she is not the only high-net worth individual with dubious political affiliations. Instead, many artists hypocritically choose which of their collectors they disparage for their political beliefs.

Richard Prince, another artist who sought to distance his work from Ivanka Trump after the election, recreates prints of people’s Instagram posts, adding fake comments by himself at the bottom of the real post. In the series, he chose a portrait by Ivanka Trump and added the comment “Nurse Ivanka,” complimenting her by referencing his well-known artwork “Nurse Elsa. The artwork was bought by Ivanka Trump in 2014. Yet only days before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Prince returned the $36,000 she paid for it and cited the Visual Artists Rights Act in order to disclaim his work, preventing Ivanka Trump from ever selling it under his name.

Prince tweeted shortly beforehand to another dealer who was ashamed to have sold his work to Ivanka: “Hey Bill. Don’t sweat it. We all sold to Ivanka in 2013.” Ironically, Prince addresses the root of the problem. The trend-setting millionaires artists and their galleries sell to today are the notorious dilettantes of tomorrow.

The work at CulturalDC is possibly inspired by the out-of-touch millionaire comments that come from people like Ivanka Trump’s mother, Ivana Trump. Ivana Trump stated in an interview prior to the 2016 election, “We need immigrants. Who’s going to vacuum our living rooms and clean up after us?” Artists like Rubell have the right to draw attention to the wealth gap in this country through the lens of Ivanka Trump and the rest of the Trump family. However, Donald Trump’s oppressive actions did not begin when he ran for office. Trump and his father made their fortune by creating housing in New York that denied black tenants. This legacy is what Ivanka Trump was buying her artwork with, but she is not the first person to pay for artwork with dirty money.

For every Ivanka Trump in the art world, there are more who aren’t as socially active and easy to target. For example, Walmart heiress Alice Walton founded the Crystal Bridges Museum, which offers free admission. While the museum was hailed for attempting to democratize art and make it more accessible to low-income individuals, many Walmart employees live below the poverty line. Walmart’s democratization of art is funded by exploitation. Yet Prince has not denounced his featured work — “Nurse Elsa” — in the Walmart-funded museum. Artists like Richard Prince seem to be arbitrarily deciding which millionaires they disavow.

To make vital change in the art world, artists must draw attention to collectors beyond Ivanka Trump and other figures who it is vogue to target. Instagram projects such as “Dear Ivanka,” should be expanded to collectors who propagate the wealth gap without making themselves an easy target by flaunting their wealth on social media.

The reliance on people who made their wealth by keeping racial minorities out of housing or preventing their employees from receiving a living wage needs to be addressed in the art world. Artists cannot just focus on Ivanka Trump and feel relieved of guilt. Instead, artists must draw attention to other high-net worth collectors who perpetuate the wealth gap.

Katie O‘Hara is a first-year graduate in art and museum studies. Painting Politics appears online every other Wednesday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *